Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, now tooling around in motorcycle heaven, has nothing on a skinny South Dakota kid named George Hopkins.
On a dare and a $25 bet, Hopkins parachuted on to Devil’s Tower in eastern Wyoming.
He was the first and, I’m pretty sure, the only person to ever do that.
Some believe Paul Brokelsby, who started the famed Reptile Gardens just outside Rapid City, had something to do with convincing Hopkin to make the leap.
The Rapid City Chamber of Commerce in the late 1930s and 1940s were looking for ways to promote the Black Hills-and tourism. Brokelsby was one of the best visionaries on what kind of stunts would attract mention in the national media.
Hence, the Devil’s Tower parachute drop was planned. Brokelsby and Hopkins succeeded in grabbing national headlines beyond ltheir wildest dreams.
Devil’s Tower is a 1,260-foot, 40-million year old monolith. Until 1941, no human had ever been on top of it before.
So the dare, the bet and Brokelsby’s press moxie began.
In early October of 1941, Hopkins strapped on a parachute and climbed aboard an airplane at Spearfish piloted by famous pilot Clyde Ice, They took off and headed for the tower.
The plan was for young Hopkins to parachute on to the top of the slender tower, and then lower himself back to level ground on ropes that Ice would drop to him after Hopkins had successfully landed on top.
Brokelsby alerted the local and national press of this daring feat soon to unfold. Then the stunt got even better.
Hopkins ended up stranded on the top of Devil’s Tower with no way down. The ropes that Ice dropped were so tangled from the drop that Hopkins couldn’t use them.
So the nation was riveted to their newspapers and radios for several days while a plan for Hopkins’rescue was developed. He could be dropped another parachute and jump off, but that was dangerous.
So a climbing team from Wisconsin was sent to rescue Hopkins, who was surviving on food and water drops by Clyde Ice and other pilots.
On Oct. 6, 1941, eight climbers from Wisconsin made it to the top. Their climb down with Hopkins in tow took them 12 hours.
The Black Hills got more national notoriety than it ever dreamed it would. And young Hopkins had his 15 minutes of fame, plus-of course-the $25 he won on the bet.
Incidentally, efforts to promote the Black Hills as a vacation destination were many, including an invitation to Al (Scar Face) Capone of Chicago to move him massive prohibition bootlegging operations to Rapid City; and an invitation to the Pope to move the Vatican to the Black Hills, followed by a request to the United Nations to build its headquarters there.
But nothing capture the national media like the Devil’s Tower parachute drop.
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